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 Computer Training (back in 1985)

Keeping on right course [Computer Training]


Published (by this title) in The Scotsman, Scottish Computer Show Special Issue, 11 March 1985 (a version of this originally appeared in The Times of Papua New Guinea and the Post Courier of PNG ("On Course for Better Computer Training").



ALASTAIR McINTOSH, who is financial adviser to the South Pacific Appropriate Technology Foundation In Papua New Guinea, gives some advice to anyone thinking about embarking on a computer training course.




THE PROBLEM is the same in countries as far apart as Papua New Guinea and Scot­land. Computers have become an appropriate technology. But sadly, the same cannot be said of many of the training courses available to teach people about them.


In developed and developing nations alike, government insti­tutions and private enterprise are urging increasing numbers of staff to enroll for training.


But too often the courses are simply not geared for what those attending need to know. The difficulty arises because the participants often do not know what they need to learn, while the course organisers often teach only what they under­stand best.


Coming from business government and other organi­satlons, most learners need to be taught how to evaluate what computers can do to assist their work, and how to choose the right machine for their needs.


But the course organisers are often academics from universities and similar institu­tions. Many come from mathe­matical or computing science backgrounds. Some are first-rate. But many know a lot about pro­gramming and binary codes, yet very little about the practi­calities of installing a com­puter system in an office.


Their courses will typically look at how computers have evolved over the years, how they work and how to program them. Now, the trouble is, most course participants think that this is exactly the kind of thing they need to learn. Usually, they are mistaken.


As little as ten years ago, a knowledge of programming was certainly an asset. Then far fewer computer “package” programs were available off the shelf. Many organisatlons, therefore, had to have pro­grams individually written for their needs.


But now the story is very different. Software packages are readily available for most functions in most types of organisation. Indeed, for just one type of personal computer - the IBM - It has been estimated that a new package goes on sale every day.


The days of an executive having to hack around with her or his own programs are dead.

In fact, they never really existed. For to become any good at programming, you have to study the subject deeply for a long time. This is fine if you want to become a professional, or take up pro­ramming as your hobby, but it can be a waste of time



So what should you look for when deciding which computer training course to go on? For most needs, the following check-list covers the main points.


           The course should introduce you to what a (micro) com­puter is, what its main parts do, and to the jargon that you will need to understand.


           It should give you a clear idea of how a computer can make life easier in the typical workplace


•           You should be told about the main types of software packages in common use —especially those designed for word-processing, accountancy, financial planning (“spread­sheets”) and information stor­age (“data bases”). Ideally, you should be given the opportunity to see these packages demon­strated and to practice a little with them. But on an introduc­tory course, it is not necessary to learn all the ins and outs: better leaving that until you have decided what computer you want to use, and then get specialist training with the software for it if necessary.


•           You should be taught about the disadvantages of computer­isation. For example, there is the human question of getting computers accepted in your office and retraining people. There is the problem of eye strain when spending too long typing onto a monitor screen. And there are hardware prob­lems such as compatibility between computers and their peripheral parts, the availabi­lity of back-up if a computer breaks down, difficulties if you have an irregular power supply and the possible loss of vital data if floppy discs etc. are not cared for and duplicated.


           You should be shown how to evaluate your own comput­ing needs. Is the cornputer really an appropriate technology for you, or just an expen­sive toy? What power of com­puter do you need? What kind of memory storage system is suitable for your volume of data? What kind of printer would be best? What make of computer should you buy to get any specialist software you may need? How much will it all cost, including the cost of retraining staff, etc, etc..




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